How to move people from apathy to action
Nexus MediaJun 12
By Jeremy Deaton
The young man believed he only had five years to live. “Not because he was sick,” said Kate Schapira, “not because anything was wrong with him, but because he believed that life on Earth would be impossible for humans.”
The sign on Schapira’s booth read: CLIMATE ANXIETY COUNSELING 5¢ THE DOCTOR IS IN. Time to earn her pennies.
On that muggy June day, she had set up shop in Kennedy Plaza in downtown Providence, Rhode Island. Schapira is not a trained therapist — a fact she makes clear to visitors — but she is happy to chat with anyone suffering from anxiety about climate change. “A lot of what I do is listen and ask questions,” she said.
Over the coming decades, rising temperatures will fuel natural disasters that are more deadly than any seen in human history, destabilizing nations and sending millions to their death. Experts say that we need to prepare for a hotter, less hospitable world by building sea walls, erecting desalination plants and engineering crops that can withstand punishing heat and drought, but few have considered the defenses we need to erect in our minds. Some, like Shapira, have called for more talking, more counseling to process our grief. But will that be enough? Climate change will do untold violence to life on this planet, and we have remarkably few tools to deal with its emotional cost.
It was a slow day when Schapira spoke to the young man. She recorded the number of dogs who scampered past — four — and the number of skateboards — more than 20. She also tallied the number of visitors — 12 — drawn to her booth, stationed just across the river from Brown University, where she teaches English literature. She looked up from her sign and updated her notes. Number of people who recognized the Peanuts reference — two.
The tall, sharply dressed man said humans were a cancer on the Earth. He said that he resented his parents for raising him to be “super hedonistic, just monstrously gaining things.” He said he had grown nihilistic, that he wanted to take up chain smoking and die a slow death. When Schapira asked if he was angry at his family, the young man replied, “I love my family. It’s so hard to know that you only have five years left to love people.”
The man was undoubtedly troubled, his vision of the future decidedly more apocalyptic than the one offered by science. But, his anxieties were real and, perhaps, understandable given the dire predictions of climatologists. While none believes human civilization will crumble in the next five years, the forecasts get hazier 30, 40 or 50 years down the road.